May 22, 2007 Subject:
Two films on the economic effects of tobacco: "Leaf" (1974) and "From Seed to Pack" (1979)
This is a brief review from my blog on history and social studies, pitched to teachers looking for films for classroom use.
[If you do a Google search for "Tobacco Institute" today, you get a site that features documents turned over to the attorneys general in their suits against tobacco companies -- I presume the old Tobacco Institute itself is long, long gone:
This website is designed to provide the public with access to documents produced by The Tobacco Institute in Attorney General reimbursement lawsuits and certain other specified civil actions, and to documents produced after October 23, 1998 through June 30, 2010 in smoking and health actions, and includes certain enhancements, all as provided for by paragraph IV of the Attorneys General Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).]
"Leaf" is a 1974 Tobacco Institute-sponsored film covering the history of tobacco and its role in agriculture, commerce and culture. In 16 minutes, it covers how to farm tobacco, hand-harvesting, curing and processing, with a focus on the small tobacco farmers whose lives, fortunes and plights were trotted out whenever Congress started to talk about controls on tobacco. The big profits of tobacco were in the processing, manufacturing and sale of cigarettes especially, cigars, and chewing tobacco and snuff.
The history segment, starting about five minutes in, ably relates the story of how John Rolf -- Pocahontas' husband -- got some pirated Spanish Leaf seed and started the Virginia tobacco industry. It also covers the breeding of "burley" tobacco and its influence on the settling of states to the west of Virginia.
The film is so well done that teachers should be prepared to offer a counter case to the advantages of tobacco -- yes, 2 million Americans had jobs in tobacco, and yes it was a $30 billion/year industry, but it kills an equal number yearly and costs nearly that amount in health care -- to the point that our society has determined the costs outweigh the benefits. This particular film does not try to make a case that tobacco is not harmful. Among other things, students will see how labor intensive tobacco is, which was one of the chief factors for the defense of slavery in tobacco producing states.
Another film that covers much of the same territory is "Tobacco: From Seed to Pack," a 1979 production from Phillip Morris. From the start, the pitch is on the plight of the small tobacco farmer, but with an attempt simply to show the process of growing tobacco. It ends making the case for the economic contributions of the tobacco industry to America: "That's the way to create a successful industry, and 2 million jobs." The film runs just under 16 minutes, though the tape transfer shows just under 20 minutes (there is about four minutes of blank video at the end).
I'd love to find films as well done on the farming of wheat, corn, soy, avocadoes, apples or other fruit, rice, and the production of steel, cars, and unfinished lumber, to mention a few -- for use in history, geography and economics courses. I'd be doubly happy if they were free for school use.